Friday, November 11, 2016

TRIGGER WARNING: You May Disagree With Me

As someone who works with high school seniors on their college applications and essays, I can tell you that grit is the buzzword of the application season. While diversity is still a topic to be tackled, there is a specific focus this year on guts and tenacity. This is, I believe, part response to universities dealing with the helicoptered generation who find themselves helpless without their hovering parents, but also, likely, a nod to psychologist Angela Duckworth's recent New York Times bestseller, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverance, in which she convincingly argues that firmness of character--grit--is a much more important indicator of success than talent or luck. As a result, this year's crop of would-be freshman have been asked in various iterations to cite evidence of their own grit.

Because we are nearing college application deadlines, my mind has been consumed with coming up with ways to convey suburban teen grittiness (no easy task, I assure you). Thus, driving home tonight, I turned on talk radio to get my mind of this topic. Inevitably, the talk turned to post-election coverage. I heard a few stories about protests on college campuses which I, of course, expected as our universities have traditionally been forums for freedom of speech and catalysts of civic engagement. However, I was dismayed to hear a student from Yale University explaining that an economics professor at the Ivy League institution gave students the option of skipping class and a test in order to cope with the fact that Donald Trump is their new President-elect. I heard about students at esteemed Barnard College emailing a petition to have classes canceled for the day so as to process their emotions. The school president responded, "While we understand that the events of the last days and hours may have affected you deeply, and may bring about heightened emotions, we have decided not to institute a College-wide cancellation of classes...We are, however, leaving decisions regarding individual classes, exams, and assignments to the discretion of our faculty." And the list goes on with select classes apparently being canceled at Cornell University, University of Michigan, University of Connecticut,, University of Rochester, Iowa State and more.

Say what?

Since when does being upset about a democratic election translate to no school? I remember taking an exam on a Jewish holiday because my professor at the very same above-mentioned University of Michigan would not consider the religious holiday as an excused absence. I took a final hours after finding out my grandfather died and aced a midterm with strep throat and a 103 degree fever. I did this, not because I was extraordinary, but rather because the ordinary/average student at that time was expected to deal, to cope, to endure. And so I find myself bursting with advice to the institutions charged with educating our youth and preparing them to survive and hopefully even succeed in the real world.

To College Deans Everywhere --

I am not against empathy or kindness. There are obviously individual situations that call for flexibility and personal consideration. However, I am astounded at your hypocrisy. So much of the application essay process emphasizes both a prospective student’s ability to embrace diversity and demonstrate acts of resilience, yet these future students are being coddled and shielded to the point of eliminating difficult political discourse. Wouldn’t a post-election, mindfully moderated class actually be an opportunity for learning? Shouldn’t a place of academia so interested in promoting diversity want to examine why this country is currently so divided? Staying under the covers in avoidance will definitely not move the nation forward and is most certainly not evidence of grit. Do you think Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh or Urban Meyer canceled practice post-election?

If you want to continue promoting safe spaces, leading lectures with trigger warnings, and making attendance dependent on the country’s mood, I suggest you reevaluate the qualities you are supposedly seeking in applicants. Diversity refers to a point of difference, not just in terms of skin color and nationality, but also of opinions. In addition, failing, losing, hurting, being disappointed, frustrated and disenfranchised are wonderful learning opportunities from which great change and innovation can come. Your essay questions imply that your administrations value these experiences. But, your actions speak differently. For a generation that has no problem anonymously spewing verbal assaults into the social media stratosphere, perhaps having to show up and engage in actual conversation would be a step towards true grit.

Make American Kids Strong Again!


A Big Ten graduate who can handle being offended.